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The Search for the Historical King Arthur: Third generation Coelings.
The Third Generation of the Brythonic Heroic Age Part 2: The Coelings.
Kings of the North
With Vortigern’s children out of the way it makes sense to touch on the Coelings, who controlled Northern Britain. At this point Coel’s territory had been split among his descendants, Mar ap Ceneu, Pabo ap Ceneu, Gwrwst ap Ceneu, and Dyfnwal ap Garbanian. Mar ruled Ebrauc, Pabo the Pennines, and Gwrwst ruled Rheged, while Dyfnwal ruled Bryneich. The Brythonic practice of splitting kingdoms between descendants was already producing problems at this point, with a possible succession crisis for the throne of Ebrauc I have discussed here. Many of these men are only known through the pedigrees or poetry. There is basically no contemporary evidence for these men’s existence, however, like the Arthur of the next generation the poetic and circumstantial evidence is there.
All evidence points to Ceneu having stepped down after his sons came of age, and took up the monastic life, establishing a church at Clydau which was named after him, Llangeneu. This was likely around the year 470ad. There is an alternative scenario here that I will briefly entertain, Ceneu didn’t step down willingly. There is a tradition of Ceneu accepting the help of Saxons to maintain his rule against Pictish and Irish raiders, a constant problem for much of Britain at the time. This lines up well with Octa of Kent’s time in the north. With a little bit of speculation it may be that Octa was living large on Ceneu’s dime so to speak, and his sons put an end to it. This is when Octa went back to Kent to take over upon Hengist’s death. After this Ceneu may have been forced to become a monk by his sons, unwilling to allow their father to continue ruling after such disgrace.
Mar, King of Ebrauc
Mar, or Mor (often seen in Latin manuscripts), was likely born around 450ad, and was possibly known originally by the name Masguid, or Maeswig, as a son of Ceneu is sometimes referred to by this in the pedigrees, and as P.C. Bartrum believes, they are one in the same, just being given different names in the different pedigrees, as they are often listed with overlapping descendants. Mar is given a number of sons in the pedigrees, Arthuis, Llenneac, Einion, Cerdic, and Morydd. It is likely that Mar appears in the Stanzas of the Graves:
The grave of Mor, the magnificent, immovable sovereign,
The foremost pillar in the conflict,
The son of Peredur Penwedig.
I think there is a possibility here that this is Mar and his Great-grandson Peredur, corrupted from a few hundred years of tradition into Father and Son, and may in fact be the part of Sir Moriens of later tradition appearing as Peredur’s son or half-brother, or nephew.
Gruffudd Hiraethog claimed that Castell Gwernfor was named after Mar ap Ceneu ap Coel Godebog. This would seem to be Ruthin Castle in Denbighshire. A bit suspect for Mar as this would have been solidly in the territory of Einion Yrth of Gwynedd, or his son Cadwallon Lawhir. The kingdom of Ebraucs likely territory was probably not far from Gwynedd, and may this implies some sort of remembered kinship between the kings, as if the memory of Cunedda marrying Coel’s daughter is true, then in fact Einion and Mar are distant cousins. This wife is remembered as Gwawl ferch Coel. This is a rather unattested name and literally means wall, associating Coel further with Hadrian’s Wall. That is not to say that the memory of the marriage is fictitious in and of itself, but that it is likely that Gwawl was not her name, and was either a corruption or intentional play on words, which is common in Brythonic derived sources.
Mar appears in the Geoffrey of Monmouth’s pseudohistory De gestis Britonum as Morvidus, and is painted as a rather awful figure.
He would have been a prince of extraordinary worth, had he not been addicted to immoderate cruelty, so far that in his anger he spared nobody, if any weapon were at hand. He was of a graceful aspect, extremely liberal, and of such vast strength as not to have his match in the whole kingdom.
He then recounts Morvidus’ defense against an army from what is now Boulogne, showing him a competent military leader. This anecdote may be a misremembered repulsion of a Maeatae raid by the sea.
CHAP. XV.—Morvidus, a most cruel tyrant, after the conquest of the king of the Morini, is devoured by a monster.
In his time a certain king of the Morini arrived with a great force in Northumberland, and began to destroy the country. But Morvidus, with all the strength of the kingdom, marched out against him, and fought him. In this battle he alone did more than the greatest part of his army, and after the victory, suffered none of the enemy to escape alive. For he commanded them to be brought to him one after the other, that he might satisfy his cruelty in seeing them killed; and when he grew tired of this, he gave orders that they should be flayed alive and burned.
Geoffrey then gives an account of Morvidus’ death at the hands of a monster from the Irish sea.
During these and other monstrous acts of cruelty, an accident happened which put a period to his wickedness. There came from the coasts of the Irish Sea, a most cruel monster, that was continually devouring the people on the sea-coasts. As soon as he heard of it, he ventured to go and encounter it alone; when he had in vain spent all his darts upon it, the monster rushed upon him, and with open jaws swallowed him up like a small fish.
This may recount a death in battle against Irish raiders. Perhaps an early incursion into Rheged or Alt Clud from Fergus Mor of the Dal Riata? There is a possibility that Mar is Fergus Mor himself, grafted into the pedigrees. Possibly employed by Ceneu and described later as a son instead (a possibility we have discussed with Garbanian Ceneu’s ‘brother’ in the last generation.)
Pabo ap Ceneu, or Pabo Post Prydain
Pabo’s place in history often gets confused as a later pedigree lists him as a son of Arthuis ap Mar, leading to confusion. An earlier, less corrupted pedigree lists him as Arthuis uncle, and Mar’s brother. This does cause issues with chronology as Pabo’s descendants are shifted much further out of line, although the later foruit also shifts things out of line s well. It may be that there were two figures by that name, or even a son of Arthuis maybe using it as a title for himself, to try and improve his prestige. He could have been a much younger son of Ceneu, being born as late as 465, possibly even 470, making him closer to his Brother’s children’s generation substantially reconciling the timeline. We may even, and I find this likely be missing a generation, some of his children possibly even being his grandchildren. His epithet “Post Prydain” means “Pillar of Britain” and implies that he was a military leader of some renown, defending Britain from Irish and Pictish invaders alike, from his Kingdom in the Pennines, inherited from his father Ceneu splitting his kingdom amongst his sons. Pabo himself is attributed with four children, Dunod Fwr, Sawyl Benisel, Cerwydd and Arddun Benasgell, the wife of Brochwel Ysgithrog, further strengthening him as a younger son of Ceneu, placing his daughter being born sometime around 500, and of a similar age to Brochwel. Another daughter supposedly married Maelgwyn Gwynedd, again suggesting this ‘middle of the road’ floruit, although another claims Sawyl married the daughter of Muiredach Muinderg implying an earlier birth. It might be that Sawyl was actually the father of the wives of Maelgwyn and Brochwel, and that Dunod is actually Sawyl’s son and not brother?
Pabo has often been conflated with St. Pabo, and if this is correct it would seem that Pabo retired from the life of a king, became a monastic hermit, and established the church at Llanbabo on Anglesey. A Stone effigy supposedly featuring Pabo was dug up in the 17th century, reading ‘Hic iacet Pa[bo] Post Priid Co[nf Gr] … [t]el [i]ma[ginem obtulit]’ ‘Here lies Pabo the Upholder of Britain, Confessor.’
Nothing else substantial can be said of Pabo, without delving too much into his descendants, which is for another article.
The first king of what was to become Rheged, again a son of Ceneu. He is generally only given one son Meirchion Gul, although one corrupted pedigree gives him other sons, such as Ellifer (a son of Arthuis). In Culhwch and Olwen, Gwrwst is given a son named Dyfnarth, and was captured by Gwyn ap Nudd, later to be freed by Arthur himself. Some have suggested that this is in reality a memory of Fergus Mor and his son Domangart, thus leading to the conclusion that the Gwrwst in the pedigrees is similarly Fergus Mor, leading to the possibility that Fergus was the founder of Rheged. Gwrwst (welsh), Fergus (irish), and Vurguist (pictish), are all cognates. This is once again an interesting possibility, but it is conjecture once again only based on a name alone. Dyfnarth does not appear in the pedigrees, so one might come to the conclusion that while Culhwch and Olwen is genuinely remembered Fergus Mor and his son Domangart, it may be that Gwrwst of Rheged was not the same man. His epithet though may give some extra insight, as Ledlwm often interpreted as “the ragged” means Half-Bare, Gildas in his work De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae excoriates the Picts and Gaels for their nakedness
in a preference also for covering their villainous faces with hair rather than their nakedness of body with decent clothing
Possibly strengthening the idea that Gwrwst and Fergus are in fact the same man.
This early Kingdom of Rheged spanned much territory, from Hadrian’s Wall, all the way down to a border with both Powys and Gwynedd. Rheged while seemingly uninvolved at this point in history, becomes extremely important in the later half of the 6th century, and yet we still know so little about it. Could it be, that shrouded in the mists of history the Irish king Fergus Mor, being used as Foederati by a British King was the founder of Rheged, or otherwise Interpolated into the pedigrees?
There is little other information to convey about Gwrwst without delving into his descendants, similarly to his ‘brother’ Pabo.
While we have discussed Ceneu’s children that leaves us with Ceneu’s brother Garbanian’s son Dynfwal Moelmud. Bryneich was still intact at this point, with the Angle kingdom of Bernicia having not yet formed, or at least in it’s infancy as a small coastal community of Angles, and seemingly under fairly strong leadership, acting as a buffer from the Gododdin directly north, as well as the more northerly picts.
Dyfnwal Moelmud “Dyfnwal the Bald and Silent”
Dyfnwal it would seem was Garbanian ap Coel’s only son, and was likely king of Bryneich sometime in the 480s. I have discussed that this may have been because his father Garbanian seemingly ruled Ebrauc for a time. He had two sons Bran Hen, and Cyngar, both of who eventually succeeded him, though it is possible he split his kingdom.
He like his father Garbanian, he also appears in Geoffrey’s DgE transported back to roughly the 5th Century B.C. this similarly to his father being shifted back to the 4th century B.C. He appears as Dunvallo or Dunwallo, and is established as a mighty war leader, and lawmaker.
CHAP. XVII.—Dunwallo Molmutius gains the sceptre of Britain, from whom came the Molmutine laws.
At length arose a youth of great spirit, named Dunwallo Molmutius, who was the son of Cloten king of Cornwall, and excelled all the kings of Britain in valour and gracefulness of person. When his father was dead, he was no sooner possessed of the government of that country, than he made war against Ymner king of Loegria, and killed him in battle. Hereupon Rudaucus king of Kambria, and Staterius king of Albania, had a meeting, wherein they formed an alliance together, and marched thence with their armies into Dunwallo's country to destroy all before them. Dunwallo met them with thirty thousand men, and gave them battle; and when a great part f the day was spent in the fight, and the victory yet dubious, he drew off six hundred of his bravest men, and commanded them to put on the armour of the enemies that were slain, as he himself also did, throwing aside his own. Thus accoutred he marched up with speed to the enemy's ranks, as if he was of their party, and approaching the very place where Rudaucus and Staterius were, commanded his men to fall upon them. But Dunwallo Molmutius, fearing lest in this disguise his own men might fall upon him, returned with his companions to put off the enemy's armour, and take his own again; and then encouraged them to renew the assault, which they did with great vigour, by dispersing and putting to flight the enemy. From hence he marched into the enemy's countries, destroyed their towns and cities, and reduced the people under his obedience. When he had made an entire reduction of the whole island, he prepared for himself a crown of gold, and restored the kingdom to its ancient state. This prince established what the Britons call the Molmutine laws, which are famous among the English to this day. In these, among other things, of which St. Gildas wrote a long time after, he enacted that the temples of the gods, as also cities, should have the privilege of giving sanctuary and protection to any fugitive or criminal, that should flee to them from the enemy. He likewise enacted, that the ways leading to those temples and cities, as also husbandman's ploughs, should be allowed the same privilege. So that in his day, the murders and cruelties committed by robbers were prevented, and everybody passed safe, without violence offered him. At last, after a reign of forty years spent in these and other acts of government, he died, and was buried in the city of Trinovantum, near the temple of Concord, which he himself built, when he first established his laws.
Though his law codes were eventually replaced and superseded by Hywal Dda’s, his standards of measurement were kept, giving him a lasting place in Brythonic History.
The Next Steps.
I find this generation to be extremely frustrating overall, as so many of the figures would seem to have solid historical roots, but scantly show up in poetry, and with there being no major contemporary Saints Lives to draw on it leads to an extremely muddled and obscured view. As always though this is the chore of researching Brythonic history, and one I feel that I (and my readers if you have been following my work since the beginning) am all too familiar with now.
In part 3 of this generation we will visit Fergus Mor of Dal Riata, Erbin of Dumnonia, Dyfnwal Hen of Strathclyde, and possibly more.